While the world waits climate change already impacting China’s rural poor

by Guest Blogger

December 15, 2011

Climate change in China

The issue of climate change is more pertinent than ever, and yet the recent Durban climate change talks hardly gave us the decisive action required. In fact what was “achieved” was a ten-year delay in global greenhouse pollution reductions. This isn’t good enough.

Melanie Hart in writing for the Center for American Progress said in her piece covering China’s participation in Durban, “China’s Durban messaging may reflect a change in tone while the substance is unclear.” From our section on the problems of climate change:

China’s rapid economic development has made it the world’s number one emitter of greenhouse gases. The booming economy has lifted millions out of poverty, but at huge environmental cost.

China’s astronomic growth and skyrocketing greenhouse gas emissions both have the same cause: black, sooty coal. More than 70% of China’s energy is supplied by coal, which in turn contributes 80% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions. Coal provides electricity to power factories, cities, businesses and homes. It poisons our atmosphere, our rivers and mountains and our lungs.

Unless China end its reliance on coal, it will be nearly impossible for the world to avoid runaway climate change.

The impacts of climate change are already being felt. Average global temperatures have risen every decade since the 1970s. 2010 tied 2005 as the hottest year on record. Overall, the 10 hottest years on record have all occurred in the last 13 years.

Extreme weather events  droughts, floods and major typhoons are becoming more common and destroying farmlands. China’s already stressed water resources are drying out even further. Glaciers, permafrost and sea ice are disappearing, while sea levels are rising and coral reefs dying. The impacts of climate change are already responsible for killing an estimated 315,000 people every year, and damaging ecosystems.

(Top image) Maidi Village, Jinzhong Town, Huize County, Longyi Tian, 10-year old, is off from school on Qingming Festival. He and his father were hired to irrigate Puqing Tang’s field, the payment is 20 yuan per day. After work, he had to go to a waterhole not far away from his home to collect water, since the water here is not clean and only can be used for cattle’s drinking and feet washing. Since fall 2009, severe drought hit southern China, causing drinking water shortage in the area. In March and April 2010, Greenpeace donated and helped to set up water pumps powered by solar energy for some villagers in YunNan Province. The drought is another chilling reminder of what climate change has in store for the whole globe unless we revolutionise the way we make and use energy.

Glacier collapse

38 km from Xiadawu township , Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, China. Glacier collapse on the western side of the Anemaqing mountain. Glacial lake (Glof) formed as result of glacier collapse and melt water. In April 2004, a huge snow avalanche took place about 38 km from Xiadawu township on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau. A combination of rising temperatures brought on by climate change and the geological challenge of steep slope gravity has resulted in the glacial tongue of Anemaqing collapsing with such force that it brought down heavy snow and dark moraine making up a large part of the mountain body. 

Herder Tencho and her younger sister Tsenang Tseten in Maduo County

Herder Tencho and her younger sister Tsenang Tseten in Maduo County. The entire region around the Yangtze river source and its community are under heavy threat from global warming, as temperatures rise and the permafrost melts. The glacial lakes feeding into this river have been subject to outburst floods (GLOF) affecting the immediate landscape and covering it in black glacial deposits and destroying grassland so it can no longer be farmed on. As lakes burst, melt and recede, local people lose their main water source. Infrastructure has been impacted by warming permafrost, cracks are appearing in houses and some are starting to sink and become unstable. A number of affected people have had to resort to temporary accommodation supplied by social welfare as they lack funds to repair the buildings.

Pannan Power Plant in Pan county

The Pannan Power Plant in Pan county, Liupanshui, Guizhou province, sits in a small valley. Its coal ash disposal site is located in Zhaluji village. Zhalujis fields on the valley floor have already been buried by coal ash, but the villagers still plant crops on the mountain slopes. Several seepage wells have been built for drainage purposes, discharging ash slurry directly into the Xiangshui River. Phase 1 of the coal ash dam covers more than 133 hectares, but Zhaluji village resident Zhou Yixian told Greenpeace that the power plant has already begun building Phase 2 and 3 “right in the valley behind our home, where on the mountain we have a primary school.”

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